|"Strong, Dangerous, and Undeniable"|
|Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, but thanks to Ms. Metz, Mr. Katims, and the WB for letting us play.
Summary: This story begins with the scene in MITC when Liz does her astral projection thing. It follows along with everything in the show, except the final scene in MITC in Liz's room never takes place.
|Michael parked his bike in the alley behind the Crashdown, then climbed off and lowered the kickstand into place. He wasn’t due at work for another hour, but Liz had called this morning and asked him to meet her here so they could talk about something. She hadn’t said what it was, but he was betting it was about what had happened at the club last night, and he was not looking forward to this little conference at all. He didn’t know how he was going to be able face her.|
He couldn’t imagine feeling any more stupid than he did about the way he’d acted last night. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure what had gotten into him. It was like someone had taken over his body or something. If he didn’t remember everything that had happened with such perfect clarity, he might almost wonder if someone from 'home' hadn’t paid him a little visit. Michael knew he often shot his mouth off without thinking, but he really deserved a medal for some of the things he’d spouted off last night, and he knew he probably deserved anything Liz might say to him about it.
As he climbed the ladder to Liz’s balcony, he wondered if Max were going to be present for this. Liz hadn’t said, but Michael was almost hoping he would be. If he was going to be read the riot act, he’d rather hear what they both had to say and get it over with in one go.
When he reached the top he found Liz waiting for him on one of the lawnchairs that were scattered about. There was no Max in evidence. Michael didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed.
As he pulled himself over the short wall that ringed the balcony, Liz stood up to greet him awkwardly.
“Um, hey, Michael,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Hey,” he replied in her general direction, unable to meet her eyes.
“Thanks for coming.”
He shrugged. “Had to be here in an hour anyway.”
There was a long moment of strained silence, with neither of them knowing quite what to say to each other.
Liz’s anger with him over the things he’d said at the club seemed to have faded, leaving her feeling extremely self-conscious over the fact that he’d walked in on her and Max during a moment of intimacy. She couldn’t help but wonder uncomfortably just how much of a glimpse he’d gotten of her without her shirt.
Ill-at-ease, Michael thrust his hands into his pockets, and shifted his stance. Finally, wishing to just get this over with, he introduced the subject he was sure he was here for them to discuss.
“So, I guess you and Maxwell behaved yourselves at his house since my energy didn’t get any wake-up calls in the middle of the night,” he said, his sarcasm masking his discomfiture over the whole incident.
Truth be known, he’d stayed up half the night waiting for that very thing to happen. He was afraid to imagine what he might’ve done if it had. Rushed right over to Max’s house and made a fool of himself, most likely, he thought with an inward grimace.
A frown of irritation marred her expression, and Liz almost became annoyed with his comment, before dismissing it as too much effort.
“Look, let’s not get into that right now, okay? That’s not what I asked you here to talk about.”
Michael frowned in slight confusion. “Well, what did you wanna talk about, then?”
“Uh...several things actually,” she replied, wondering where to begin. Deciding to start with the least embarrassing subject, she asked, “Remember how you said you wanted to- to explore our connection? See if we could find some answers about it?”
He nodded, somewhat bemused. Their connection was the last thing he would have expected her to want to discuss after all the trouble it had caused last night.
“Well- do you still want to do that?” she asked anxiously.
Michael looked at her curiously. “I haven’t changed my mind, Liz, if that’s what you’re askin’. He lifted his brows slightly. “Why? Have you?”
Tucking her bottom lip between her teeth, she nodded.
“Yeah, I- I have. I want to see if we can find out why it exists.” Her mouth twisted. “And I want to figure out if there’s a way to put some kind of leash on the thing. It’s having way too much of an influence on... everything.”
He nodded, in complete agreement. His musical preferences being the most recent example of that.
He was a little surprised at Liz’s sudden change of heart. Only 36 hours ago she’d been telling him that she might never be ready to find out what this connection between them meant. But then, it had been a very busy 36 hours, connection-wise.
“Okay, so when do you want to do this?” he asked, growing excited at the prospect. There was no telling what they might be able to do with this thing if they developed it a little. And finding out more about their past seemed a distinct possibility if they could repeat the dreamwalking thing Liz had done the other night.
Liz wasn’t excited about it by any means, but now that she’d made up her mind, she was ready to get started as soon as possible. “What about after work today? I think your shift is a couple of hours longer than mine, but do you want to meet at your apartment when you get off?”
Michael nodded his agreement, wishing they didn’t have to work today, so they could get started right away. But he was pleased that Liz didn’t want to waste any more time and they could get to it as soon as possible.
“Max is gonna be there, too,” she informed him. “And we have to be really careful that this thing doesn’t get away from us, Michael. I promised Max that if anything felt weird at all, we’d back off, okay?”
His lips twisted. Great, he was gonna have Maxwell breathing down his neck the entire time. He really should’ve expected something like that, especially after the misadventures of the energy blast last weekend.
“And I told him to ask Maria if she wanted to be there, too. I think it would be really good for her to see exactly what this thing can and can’t do, you know? Max is over at her house talking to her right now.”
Michael frowned. “What’s Max doin’ talking to her? I thought we decided it would be best for you to try to talk to her first.”
“Yeah... well- she still might not be speaking to you or me today, and she really needed someone to talk to.” It pained her to say that, and she was really hoping that Max could get Maria to come around. It was torture knowing that she was responsible for the pain her best friend was going through right now, and she couldn’t stand not being able to talk to her about it. “So, um- Max and I figured he should be the one to go. You know, since he’s... kinda in the same situation she is,” Liz finished with a slight wince.
He silently took all that in and had to agree that it sounded reasonable. Max was good at doing the sensitive thing and he’d probably know just what to say to Maria. Michael only hoped that when his turn came, he’d have some general clue about what she needed to hear from him.
“I think she’s in a pretty bad place about all this, Michael,” Liz told him quietly, before confessing guiltily, “I- uh, I dreamwalked her last night.”
His forehead wrinkled and he asked, “What did you see?”
Liz shifted uncomfortably and avoided his eyes.
“Us,” she admitted, her cheeks coloring. Haltingly, she went on to relate the details of Maria’s dream to him.
By the time she was through, Michael had a heavy ache in the center of his chest. It wasn’t hard to figure out why Maria might have dreamed about him and Liz in a romantic situation after what she’d overheard him saying to Liz last night, he thought with a wave of self-loathing. But that she would dream about that night at the Crashdown like that filled him with a sick feeling of dismay.
That had been an important moment for them. Most especially for him. It had been the first time he’d ever allowed himself to be led by his heart. The following week had been some of the best days of his life. He’d been almost happy for the first time in his memory. And it had all been because of Maria. He was always the closest he ever got to being happy when he was with her. No matter what she was thinking right now, how could she possibly imagine that Liz could ever take her place in his heart?
She must be feeling even more confused over this thing than he was, Michael thought, disturbed. He was suddenly extremely grateful to Max for going over there to talk to her.
But Max wouldn’t be able to tell her what she most needed to hear to ease her mind over all this. Michael realized in that moment that that was something only he could do. Maybe he just might have that clue after all, he thought with self-mockery.
After Liz had finished telling him the dream there was a long pained silence, heavy with awkwardness. She finally broke it, saying, “I just thought you should know. You know, just...what’s going on in her head right now.”
Michael nodded without replying, and Liz studied his brooding expression, trying to guess at his thoughts.
“We have to talk to her as soon as she’ll listen, Michael,” she told him, wanting to make sure he understood.
“Yeah, I see that,” he answered. He looked at her, his expression unsure. “Do you think she’ll come tonight? To my apartment?”
Shrugging uncertainly, Liz replied, “I’m not sure. I think she’d feel better if she were there, but it may be too soon to expect it of her. I guess it just depends on how things go with her and Max.”
Michael accepted that with a nod, knowing they’d find out soon enough when she showed up for work in less than an hour.
With a glance at her watch to see how much time they had left before their shifts started, Liz said, “There’s one more thing that happened last night you should know about.”
He cocked a brow. “It was obviously a very busy night in the Evans household.”
Her lip curled humorously and she cut her eyes up at him. “You haven’t heard the half of it,” she said dryly.
He smirked at her in response and her smile widened.
They both suddenly realized that this was the closest they’d come to joking with each other since... well, since a week ago when all this had started. The moment of slight humor seemed to alleviate some of the uneasy tension between them.
Liz’s eyes fell away shyly and she said, “Um...it’s about the dream thing. Isabel said she didn’t think what we did the other night was a dreamwalk.”
“What, you told her about it?” he asked, frowning.
“Yeah, last night,” she confirmed.
“Great. I guess now she’s ticked at me for not tellin’ her.” He knew that’s probably how he’d feel if he found out one of the others had had a dream of this import and had held out on him.
“No, I told her it was my fault you hadn’t told her,” Liz said, explaining it away. “Anyway, she said she was pretty sure I would have to be conscious of what I was doing for it to be a dreamwalk.”
His brows furrowed. “Well what was it, then? I mean, we did both see the same dream, right?”
Liz nodded. “I think maybe we... connected somehow, in our sleep.”
Shaking his head in consternation, he asked, “How? We weren’t even touching.”
“I don’t know how. But, Max and I can do it, too,” she told him.
Michael looked at her sharply, sensing where this was headed. Just that quickly he forgot how foolish he’d been feeling only moments ago over his protective attitude towards Liz last night, and became outraged.
“You went to his room last night,” he said accusingly. “And after you swore to me you wouldn’t do anything stupid.”
Tossing her head, Liz said impatiently, “I did not swear. And we didn’t do anything stupid. I went to his room to talk.”
He snorted in disbelief, and Liz glared at him. “Look, Max and I have been going through a lot lately, and we needed to- to just hold each other. So we slept together in his room.”
Michael’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“ Slept being the operative word,” she clarified. She made sound of exasperation and said, “Can we please get back to the point here?”
He looked at her, his jaw tight, and Liz took his silence for assent.
“ The point is , Max and I had the same dream last night. And it was about Zan.”
The words were enough to startle him from his indignation. “You dreamed about Zan?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Well- not just Zan. We think Rath and Vilondra were there, too. And maybe someone else, but I don’t think it was Ava.”
“Well, what were they doing?” he prodded, his voice an octave higher in his excitement.
She grimaced slightly. This was where the details got sketchy in both her and Max’s memories. “Dancing. I- I think.”
“ Dancing ?” he asked, dumbfounded. Utterly disappointed by the answer, he asked caustically, “And what kind of dancing do they do on the home planet? The alien hustle?”
“It was just regular...slow- dancing,” was her shrugging reply, and she looked at him somewhat apologetically, understanding that he’d been hoping for something a little more... alien . But then, how could he complain, when the dream they’d shared had been of two kids playing in a field?
Michael shook off his feelings of letdown, telling himself that if these dreams were real, it was more than they’d ever received in the past, no matter what the subject.
“So okay, we connected. But how does that explain why we’re suddenly dreaming about our past selves?” he asked.
“We talked about that this morning, and Max thinks maybe I’m tapping into something inside you guys somehow. Kinda like when I was getting those flashes about the orbs.”
He made a face of comprehension. “So- Max knows...?”
“About the dream we shared?” she completed the thought. “Yeah, I told him last night.”
“And he knows I spent the night,” he said with a tone of apprehension.
She gave him a significant look. “Yeah. He knows.”
She really had been busy, he thought sourly. In studying her, he decided she looked a little guilt-ridden, but she didn’t seem too broken up about it, so Max must not have been very hard on her. Michael didn’t hold out much hope that he’d get off so easily. It should make tonight’s activities even more fun, he thought sarcastically, dreading the confrontation.
On the up side, they’d learned that this dream thing she could do hadn’t been a one-time deal, and it showed a lot of potential for helping them learn about their pasts. Hopefully something of a little more significance than dances and frolicking children.
“I wanna try to do the dream thing again,” he said forcefully.
Wryly, she replied, “I never doubted you would. But, we have to be asleep.”
“Then we’ll go to sleep,” he said, shrugging negligibly.
Liz nodded her assent. “ After work,” she reminded him, and he frowned in irritation.
He was more impatient than ever to get to their connection experiments, and it was an annoyance that they had to get through their shifts first. Plus, they still had to try and make sure Maria was okay.
Michael sighed heavily.
It was gonna be a long day.
Maria crossed over to the door with resignation in answer to Max’s knock. Though he hadn’t said when he’d called, she knew why he was here and she wasn’t sure she was up to this discussion just yet. She’d woken up to find that the protection of her cloaking anger had dissipated for the most part, making her feel as if all her hurt feelings over the situation were exposed and raw.
“Hey, Maria,” Max greeted her from the doorstep with a quiet smile.
“Hi, Max,” she returned, forcing a small smile in return, then opened the door wide in silent invitation.
He stepped inside, tucking his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.
“Come on in,” she motioned him with her hand, and he followed her into the living room, where they both took a seat on the couch.
Turning to face him, she spoke without preamble. “Look, I know Liz sent you here, but there really wasn’t any need. I was- gonna talk to her today anyway,” she admitted.
She’d come to the conclusion this morning that she couldn’t stand feeling this alienated from Liz. Neither of them had ever refused to speak to the other before, and she knew she’d probably hurt her best friend by doing so now. After an initial stab of satisfaction that she was completely ashamed of now, Maria felt nothing but regret for it. She’d realized she was really only making things harder, and was making herself feel even more miserable and alone by cutting herself off from them this way. She’d dreamed last night that Liz had told her something along those lines, and she figured her subconscious was probably trying to tell her something.
She was attempting to ignore everything else it’d had to say last night.
“She didn’t, actually,” Max refuted her first statement. “It was my idea to come over here. We haven’t really talked in a while, and...I-I’ve kinda missed it,” he confessed, his lips curving shyly. “So I thought I’d just come see how you were doing with all this. Make sure you’re okay.”
Maria looked at him warmly, touched by his concern. It really had been a while since they’d talked one on one. The last time had probably been over a month ago when he’d come to the Crashdown upset over Liz’s speech about not wanting to die for him. Maria realized suddenly that she’d missed him too.
“Well, thanks. But I guess it’s pretty obvious I’m not dealing very well,” she said ruefully. Wrinkling her nose apologetically, she said, “Sorry for running out like that last night. Were you guys really worried?”
Giving her a look of gentle reproof, Max replied, “Yeah. We were pretty worried. I was afraid if the hairpin curves at 80 miles an hour didn’t kill us, Michael was just gonna kick me to the curb and take over driving, ‘cause I wasn’t going fast enough to catch up with you.”
Her lips thinned and she said bitterly, “I’m surprised he was worried at all. In fact, I’m surprised he even realized I was gone.”
Max looked at her steadily. “Is that why you took off? To test him?”
“No,” Maria denied emphatically, then after a moment, made a face. “Not consciously, at least. I was just...upset. Everything was happening too fast. It was like, everybody’s been keeping all these secrets from me that I didn’t even realize they had, and suddenly they’re hitting me with them all at once, you know? I just- I couldn’t deal.”
His expression compassionate, he said, “I know this is a difficult situation, Maria. But please- don’t ever take off by yourself like that again, okay?” he admonished softly. “At least not until we find out more about this watcher and what he’s after.”
Shamefaced, she nodded, remorseful that she’d thrown everyone into a panic last night. If what Max had said was true, they could’ve had a serious accident trying to chase her down, and it would’ve been all her fault. She just hadn’t been thinking about the watcher at all when she’d gone rushing from the club. Alex had reminded her forcefully of it when he’d gotten in the car, though.
Not wanting to be too hard on her, Max said soothingly, “Everybody made it home safe and sound, though, that’s the main thing.”
“Right,” she nodded with lashes lowered. “I am sorry, though, Max.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, dismissing the subject as closed.
They were silent for a moment, then Max said, “I’m glad you decided to talk to Liz today. She really feels bad about all this, and she’s worried about you.”
Maria’s lips twisted. She knew he was right that she and Liz needed to talk, but she was still feeling pretty bruised over all the secrecy business. She couldn’t help but feel foolish now, knowing everything that had been going on right under her nose that she’d been unaware of. And she found it hard to understand why Liz would leave her out of so much that was going on in her life.
“Yeah, it seems like talking isn’t really something Liz and I have been very good at lately,” she said, her voice tinged with bitter sadness. “Apparently, there’s been a lot I’ve missed.” She paused. “You, for example.”
Max remained silent, not quite sure how to respond to that.
“I mean, I’ve kinda suspected something was going on with you two, but I gather from what Michael said last night that you and Liz have gotten pretty... close - again,” she said archly.
Max’s face reddened at the mention of Michael’s comment about him and Liz not being able to keep their clothes on. Under normal circumstances Maria would’ve teased him about it, but she wasn’t much in a teasing mood at the moment. Instead, she asked, “When did all that happen?”
“Oh, uh-" he scratched the back of his head, “It was when I got back from New York. But we’re keeping it a secret until we can be more sure of how Tess might react. You know, because of all that future stuff.”
Lowering her eyes and smiling faintly, Maria shook her head once. “So you do know about all that.”
“Yeah,” Max admitted, watching her carefully. He knew this was probably a sore point with her too, since it was yet another secret she hadn’t been let in on. But he and Liz had decided she'd probably already guessed it was true.
Shrugging slightly and nodding at the same time, she said, “I kinda figured, since you two are obviously back together now and everything.”
He hesitated, then said consolingly, “I’m sorry, Maria. I know Liz would’ve told you if you’d pushed her on it, but you’ve just been kind of... distracted this week. No one knew but Isabel. And that was only because she got flashes from Liz when they saved my life in New York.” He grimaced. “Well, and Michael knew. For obvious reasons,” he said in a slightly grumbling fashion.
Maria looked at him searchingly, his tone suddenly making her aware of the merits of having him here to talk to. “Does that make you as crazy as it does me?”
He raised his brows questioningly.
“That they know like- everything about each other. Things we might never know. You- at least you have a fighting chance with your connection, and Liz probably tells you things. But Michael-“ she shook her head. “Unless he suddenly grows a little openness and sensitivity, I’ll probably never know a lot of the things Liz does.” She looked at him with shadowed eyes and asked hesitantly, “Does it make you feel kinda... cheated? And- left out?”
The corner of his lip tightened and he gave her a brief, dark look, before his eyes fell away. The thought occurred to him for a second time that it would probably be almost as good for him as it was for Maria to have someone to commiserate with over this.
“Yeah,” he replied, confessing, “I know it’s probably completely irrational, but- it just feels like they have all these secrets together. It’s hard not to feel... excluded, and maybe- maybe a little bitter.”
“Exactly,” she said almost triumphantly, gratified that someone understood exactly how she felt.
“And you know what else makes me crazy about this thing?” Without waiting for an answer, she went on. “That they can talk to each other inside their heads. That really freaks me out. I mean, it is just not something real people do. It’s kinda creepy, don’t you think?”
That part did kind of make him crazy, Max acknowledged. He hated it, actually. It seemed so unfair to him that Liz should be capable of that kind of communication only with Michael. But creepy wasn’t exactly the word he’d use for it.
“If by ‘creepy’ you mean annoying, and I resent the heck out of it, then yeah,” he answered a little irritably.
Maria snickered, and he smiled reluctantly, pleased by his unintentional lightening of the mood.
Her smile faded quickly, but the relief of having someone to talk to about this, and even be able to laugh about it made it so much easier to ask the question that had been plaguing her since she’d found out about this connection.
“You’ve had a week longer to think about this than I have, why do you think they can do that, Max? Why are they connected like this?”
He shrugged helplessly, and looked at her as if sorry he didn’t have an answer for her. “A week really hasn’t been long enough to figure that out, Maria.”
“Well I know, but you must have some ideas rolling around in your head,” she prompted.
Since he had a more than vague idea of her own thoughts on the matter, his gaze was serious and direct as he said, “Probably about the same kinds of ideas rolling around in yours.”
He saw something like anguished fear flicker in her eyes, and he thought she must feel as if he were substantiating her worriesby admitting they'd occurred to him too.
Shaking his head, he said gently, “But I do know that no matter why the connection exists, it’s not going to make any difference at all in the scheme of things.”
Envying him his sense of faith, Maria asked quietly, “How can you be so sure?”
“I’ve had plenty of unsure moments, believe me,” he said wryly. “But in the end, I guess I just have to listen to what my heart tells me, you know? That Liz and I belong together. No matter what. And since I know that’s what Liz’s heart is telling her too, I have to believe that.”
Maria sighed, feeling depressed and a little jealous. She wished she had that kind of certainty where Michael was concerned.
Max read her expression easily, and said comfortingly, “I think it’s just his head that’s confused, Maria. I’m sure his heart knows the truth.”
She made a face. “It doesn’t really make a difference. Following his heart isn’t exactly Michael’s strong suit. I’m not that sure it would lead to me anyway,” she said with heavy-hearted dubiousness.
Max’s eyes darkened with sympathy, but he wasn’t sure what he could say to reassure her. He almost smiled when he remembered how effectively Liz had dispelled his insecurities the night before. But he was definitely the wrong person to take that tack with Maria. He considered telling her of Liz’s conviction that Maria was the one Michael loved, but he wasn’t sure if that would make her feel better, or simply stir her resentment toward the connection, since Liz was likely so sure of it because she’d actually seen it inside him.
In the end, he decided it really wasn’t their place to tell Maria how he felt. That was something Michael needed to do himself.
“Well, it might not mean that much coming from me,” he finally said. “But I honestly think you are the one his heart would lead him to. Just...follow your own heart, Maria, and I’m sure he can’t help but respond to it.”
Maria smiled softly, suddenly reminded of their summer conversations, when they’d kept each other encouraged to just hang in there and Liz and Michael would come around eventually. It seemed as though Max didn’t need her reassurances this time, but she found herself desperately latching on to his. His quiet understanding and obvious willingness to listen seemed an invitation to confess her feelings to him, just as she had in those days.
“I just feel like I’ve lost him all over again. You know? Which is stupid, because we really weren’t all that together to begin with. But, it feels just like it did last spring. Like- I’ve lost him, to something...alien. And I just don’t have any way of fighting against that.”
“You haven’t lost him, Maria,” Max assured her softly. “He needs you. Probably more than he knows. You bring out the...the human in him. He fights against that, and- he tries to keep his alien side apart from you because he’s afraid it’ll hurt you somehow, but..." he shook his head, "he’s never going to be happy until he learns how to reconcile both sides of himself. And I don’t think he’ll ever be able to do that without you.” He reached out and gave her arm a light squeeze. “Just- try and be patient with him a little longer, okay? He’s gonna wake up one of these days and realize how much he needs you. And he’ll probably kick himself for taking so long to see it.”
Maria looked at him silently, her eyes glowing with appreciation. The man certainly had a gift for soothing a girl’s fears, she thought fondly.
Of course, she knew he couldn’t speak for Michael, and this was all just speculation on Max’s part. But she’d always thought, herself, that if Michael would only let her in she could teach him not to be afraid of his emotions, and could make him happy. Max’s words instilled her with the hope that if she persevered, everything would work out in the end. And if Michael thought he had some kind of newly-arisen feelings for Liz, she would just have to help him see the error of his ways. Liz and Max had just found one another again, and they couldn’t allow Michael’s confusion over this connection to mess things up for the two of them. She knew how much they loved each other, and even if she couldn’t be 100% sure of Michael’s feelings for her, the surety that Max and Liz belonged together was something definite to hang on to.
She had started out dreading this conversation with Max because she’d been afraid it would only end up making her more depressed by stirring it all up and discussing it. But he’d actually managed to make her feel a little better over the whole situation. A little stronger, and less alone.
Her voice warm with gratitude, she said affectionately, “I’ve missed you, girlfriend.”
Max smiled at the silly misnomer she’d taken to calling him over the summer.
“Ditto,” he returned with a teasing grin.
|Part 41 | Index | Part 43|
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours|